How my smartphone made me a 'brighter' designer.

 
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I recently discovered one of my favorite toys; a really simple app that measures light levels!  How exciting, right!? Okay, okay, so it probably won’t break the internet with millions of downloads, but I have found it to be one of the most enlightening (pun intended) tools I have on my phone.

As an interior designer, I am currently involved in two projects with clients who have been sensitive to lighting levels within their space. In one case the functional focal point of the space, a very large digital display screen, was critically sensitive to lighting levels. The other case was merely an informed client who was concerned with computer screen fatigue among his staff and wanted a lighting solution that was both appropriate in level as well as adjustable to individual needs.

 light-level standards chart

light-level standards chart

We designers are trained to know what light levels are appropriate for different uses - check out the chart above (click here for a larger version) for the standards. Furthermore, our experience gives us the ability to create effective moods - low light to create intimacy; bright light for vibrancy; high contrast for drama, etc. – but when challenged to provide empirical evidence, I only had the accepted standards to rely on.  That’s when I was inspired to find a new tool…to the internet!

Now, a light meter is not a new invention. My father gave me his, built circa 1950, that looks like a prop from a Tim Burton movie, but it’s buried in the bottom of a box somewhere, disregarded as being cumbersome. Having one on your phone, on the other hand, and turning it on wherever you go will open your eyes to the varied conditions of our lit world. There are a bunch of apps, but the one use on my Android phone is called Light Meter by Trajkovski Labs. There are many others but what attracted me to this one is the added bonus that it measures colour temperature as well!

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My random testing of light conditions and environments has been a journey of discovery. One of the most surprising things I’ve found is the wide range of conditions within which my eyes are able to function.  I’ve noticed that I’m just as comfortable navigating obstacles on a bright sunny afternoon as I am at night when the app measures no appreciable light – navigate, sure, but don’t ask me to read a menu in a steak house!  I’ve also discovered that most of our lighting designs are, in fact, over designed and I can see that as a result of this growing body of empirical data that I will become a more responsible and efficient designer.

I embarked on a mission to find a tool to help me provide an accurate and informed solution and I wound up finding an app that has been truly enlightening.  Check out one of these apps, you’ll see that it’s fun!  Okay, maybe only “designer-nerd” fun…”


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Brian Schindler, B.E.S., M. Arch., NCIDQ

With a Master of Architecture degree and 30+ years of experience in architecture and interior design, Brian brings a unique perspective to projects in any capacity.  He was an owner/principal of an award winning commercial interior design firm for 21 years.  He has contributed to the shaping of the interior design industry as a member of both the executive board of ARIDO and its committees.

brian.schindler@sdi-design.com | Linkedin